Completed in early 1979, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker depicted a more haunting and agonizingly slow crossing into the heart of darkness than Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now would just a few months later. In Tarkovsky's gorgeously shot film, two men hire a guide, called a "stalker," to take them into a mysterious restricted zone that seems to be alive, and which can only be traversed along an invisible path that is sensed rather than seen.
Like Stalker, director Bill Watterson's impressively visual Dave Made a Maze concerns a group of people attempting to navigate a living and hostile territory seeded with threats. Dave (comedian Nick Thune), a frustrated artist, builds a cardboard maze in his apartment. Its interior is vastly larger than the exterior, and Dave becomes lost as the maze expands; his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), along with the crew of a documentary filmmaker (good old James Urbaniak), cross its threshold to find him.
It's kind of an artisanal, Brooklyn-y riff on Stalker, the maze haunted by a craftsy cardboard minotaur, its passages winding through sculptural, handcrafted death traps, forced-perspective illusions and elaborate art galleries themed on playing cards and piano keyboards. The film is deceptively cute -- in one sequence, the characters are transformed into paper-bag puppets -- but its heart is dark. Though the flying blood and guts are made from silly string and crepe paper, characters actually suffer violent deaths. Cardboard is cheap, and by marshalling a tiny budget toward craft-store set design, Watterson builds a movie that's genuinely bigger on the inside.